The Drama Around Riot's Triple League Of Legends Ban Continues

Riot decided to clean house within the professional League of Legends world yesterday, banning three teams for a variety of allegations including deceptive conduct, unpaid payments to players and fostering an unsafe environment for players. The bans were levelled against teams Rengeades, Team Dragon Knights (TDK) and Team Impulse, with all three given 10 days to sell their all legal claim to their spots in top and second tier of the League Championship Series in North America.

Understandably, the fallout has been palpable.

Here's The Claims

For those not with us yesterday, the basic breakdown is this: last year, Renegades co-owner Chris Badawi was banned by Riot for allegedly trying to poach players from rival teams without following proper procedure.

Riot then said they'd received evidence that Badawi had reached a deal with the current owner of Renegades, Christopher Mykles, that ensured he would receive a 50% stake in the team (whose CS:GO team is Australian) once his suspension lifts. That's a violation of Riot's rules and regulations regarding team ownership: strike one.

The second strike was a series of claims that Renegades failed to "honour payment and contract provisions" for their League of Legends team, while also failing to maintain a "safe environment". The third strike against Renegades involved a trade with Team Dragon Knights in March, with Riot saying they'd received evidence that players were receiving compensation and benefits from their previous teams after the trade had completed.

Teams are required to file information with Riot as part of the trade process. Riot argued that the documentation supplied by both teams didn't disclose that players would be receiving any benefits from their former teams after the trade had gone through, which was tantamount to deception.

For their involvement, the owners of Renegades and TDK have been forced to sell their legal claim to their LCS spots. TDK's owners, as it stands, are banned until January 1, 2019, from having any affiliation or association with a team in a Riot-sanctioned league. Christopher Mykles can't hold any "Riot-sanctioned position" within a rival League team (a coach, analyst or management role, basically) for a year, and Chris Badawi has been banned from Riot's patch of esports permanently.

As if that wasn't enough, Team Impulse was also found to have withheld payments from players going as far back as 2015. The organisation didn't even have contracts for its players when they were audited a couple of months ago, and for their efforts the owners have been banned from the LCS and fined US$20,000. They've also got 10 days to sell their claim in the LCS.

Renegades Hits Back

As soon as Riot published their claims yesterday afternoon, questions began to surface. Members of Renegades' League of Legends roster immediately took to social media to defend the organisation, saying that any suggestion that they were mistreated or subjected to a poor environment was nothing short of absurd.

The team's current support player, Nickolas "Hakuho" Surgent, also said suggestions of an unsafe environment were questionable.

Christopher Mykles waited before saying much publicly, although he indicated that the matter could end up in some form of litigation. He also claimed that Riot never presented any of these issues to him whatsoever, with many of the claims coming as news to him.

Polish midlaner Marcin "SELFIE" Wolski, who currently plays for Rick Fox's esports organisation Echo Fox, also indirectly challenged Riot's accusations by saying that Renegades treated him and Norwegian jungler Tri "k0u" Tin Lam when they were in the United States.

Chris Badawi won't be coming back to professional League of Legends any time soon, but that didn't stop him from throwing his hat in the ring either. Like those above, he questioned Riot's claims about player mistreatment, and he rejected claims of a deal between himself and Mykles.

Alexey "Alex Ich" Ichetovkin, who was traded from Renegades to TDK in March, said during a livestream that the only one of Riot's claims that held any water related to the alleged agreement between Badawi and Mykles. "I never had any problems within the team, so the one that says the players were [mistreated] ... I was always paid on time, so that's not my issue," he said.

A manager for Renegades, Matt Akhavan, has also revealed that Riot investigated the organisation following their trade with TDK. He told Slingshot that Riot's current ruling was a surprise, given that Riot didn't raise any issues about the process following that investigation.

"There was an investigation when the trade was made, however I was under the impression Riot deemed that we were not in breaking any rules based on what was communicated to me by Riot," Akhavan said.

It's not known whether Riot's investigation into the trade had actually concluded, or whether they sparked a second investigation after receiving evidence relating to the other allegations.

Curiously, Akhavan declined to defend Renegades with the same level of vigour when it came to the treatment of players. "The only thing I feel comfortable saying is that our players were never in any danger," he told Slingshot.

As For Team Impulse And Team Dragon Knights

Things are decidedly less grey for Team Impulse, however. Reports surfaced in early April that the team was looking for investors and/or to sell its LCS position shortly after staving off relegation.

Impulse hasn't said anything on social media about the ruling; their Facebook page has been quiet since March 21, and their last Tweet in late April was about upcoming merchandise.

But Kenneth "ExecutionerKen" Tang, who played for Impulse as a substitute earlier this year, did weigh into the fray. In a Twitlonger post, he backed up Riot's allegations by saying that players, substitute, coaches and analysts hadn't received their mandated minimum payments or expenses that Impulse had promised to pay.

"I have not been paid for the 4 matches that I played for Team Impulse, and my travelling costs in assisting the team which was promised to be reimbursed. Beibei has played for 3(?) matches total. Both his [minimum player compensation] and travelling costs are not paid. Our coach Jason has not been paid for the past three months," Tang wrote.

Team Dragon Knights has been even less vocal. The team hasn't posted anything on their Facebook page since the beginning of April, while their Twitter account has been silent for just as long. Their MSI-branded social media accounts appear to have been taken down, and there's no mention on their website about the ruling or the enforced sale of their LCS spot.

Everyone Else Weighs In

The whole saga has sparked another discussion about developer-enforced punishments, the manner in which Riot communicated the rulings, the lack of an appeals process and whether there was enough foundation for the allegations in the first place.

Bryce Blum, director of Esports at betting agency Unikrn and co-founder of Interactive Media & Entertainment Law, criticised the lack of transparency, due process or the ability for the accused to appeal. (It's worth adding that Blum represents Renegades as their attorney, a conflict he has openly admitted in the past and reiterated today.)

The general discourse, even amongst sections of the media and esports that have come out in full support of Riot's ruling, has been that the system and process handling these matters is fundamentally broken.

Long-time esports analyst and journalist Duncan "Thorin" Shields, who has multiple friendships with Renegades and also publicly advised the team on the recruitment of the Australians on their Counter-Strike: Global Offensive roster, bluntly said the process was unfair.

In a longer video, he outlined that Badawi's interactions with the team made it "pretty likely" that the former Renegades owner had some degree of ownership. However, he stressed that he didn't have or had seen any evidence proving those suspicions — but Riot hadn't put forward any evidence of their own for public scrutiny.

It's worth remembering that there's just over three weeks until the next Split again and the teams have only 9 days left to sell their position. Stephen Ellis pointed out that Team Impulse made things difficult when they attempted to sell their LCS position last year, and the heightened interest around League of Legends will make it exceptionally difficult to process the sale in time.

Regardless of the furore, it's been suggested to Kotaku Australia that the cheapest of the three open slots — Team Dragon Knights, who are only in the Challenger tier of NA LCS — could sell for as much as US$850,000, while the higher profile positions could fetch millions.

While this is just speculation, the figures aren't totally pie in the sky. Team Dignitas received around US$1 million when they were forced to divest from their NA LCS team last year, while former NBA forward Rick Fox spent roughly the same amount purchasing Gravity Gaming's LCS position.

It's not known as to how things will play out from here. Given that Riot are the ones who pay the players and organisations, they have every right to permit or bar people from their league as they see fit. But given that these decisions affect people's careers — and that Riot already have a tribunal system in place for overseeing player behaviour within League — there is a growing amount of public support for more clarity and due process around the handling of competitive rulings.

It's also tricky for Riot. They're actively trying to police their league by enforcing levels of professionalism that will benefit players, organisations, and the rest of esports by proxy. They need to be able to act and investigate when claims are put forward to them, and there has to be some measure of protection involved for those who bring that evidence forward.

Regardless of what happens, it's clear that this is one scandal that the League community won't be moving on from any time soon.


    The whole concept of selling off a position in the league seems weird to me. Especially the fact that some positions might be worth more than others depending on how the old team has done. If there is no continuity between the new and old teams, why should the new team inherit anything the old team had earned?

    As for the player payments issue, as I understand it Riot pays the team an appearance fee and expects the team to pay out some portion of that to the team members. If they want to ensure that the players get paid, why not pay them the base salary directly? If the team wants to pay the player more, then that would only be between the team and player.

      I've seen this question about players getting paid directly a fair amount. It seems the reason they don't do it directly is tax/business related.

      I'm actually really interested to see if this stops/slows some bigger companies trying to buy a slot in either the LCS or CS. I can't imagine serious investors would take lightly to losing the rights or being forced to sell their stake on Riots whim.

    This is exactly why eSports will always be a joke. As if rabid fans and shady deals weren't bad enough in the history of REAL professional sports leagues, you have League of Legends that simultaneously shits all over casual players while leading on their toxic "community" overflowing with 13 year old trolls who think they'll be "pros" one day that won't hesitate to send death threats to players who are having a bad game or teams who lost. Now throw loose regulations in the mix, allowing those who can benefit the most from this new frontier to exploit anyone they please, knowing that if caught, they'll likely be banned for a year and can do almost anything to players on a whim?

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